The Good Mayor by Andrew Nicoll

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The Good Mayor by Andrew Nicoll

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A sweet love story with a magical twist follows the Good Mayor of the Baltic town of Dot and his obsession with his beautiful, lonely, but married secretary. Feuds and friendships are never quite what they appear to be in this delightful tale.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 360 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Black and White Publishing
ISBN: 978-1845021924

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Tibo Krovic is the good and honest mayor of Dot. Dot is a small town in a forgotten part of the Baltic states… just across the water from Dash… nestling on the banks of the Ampersand.

To begin with, these understudies for locations irritated me. Was the author too lazy to do the research and come up with a real setting; or was it a kind of pretension towards those highbrow Russian novels that always referred to the main characters as Dr A or Professor K?

Somehow though, the device was extended until it worked. Dot's inhabitants are Dottians and that they should have a long-standing public (but not at all personal) feud with Umlauters is almost a given. Ampersand Avenue? Why not…can't you just picture it?

After all the specific location isn't ever the point, is it? Least of all in a love story. Love stories are about people. In this case, this love story is about the Good Mayor of Dot, Tibo Krovic, and his inconspicuous secretary, Mrs Agathe Stopak.

If the blurb tells you that Mrs Stopak is beautiful – that's only because the Good Mayor Krovic thinks so. No-one else particularly remarks upon it. Her husband must have found her so, once upon a time. The years were not kind however. Their child died, and he withdrew so totally from his beloved wife Agathe that she questioned her own existence, let alone her beauty. How was she to know that the good Mayor pined for her on the other side of the office door every single day?

And what would she have done had she known?

So the world turns. Mrs Stopak does her job and goes home to her husband. Day after day. Day after day she avoids the jokingly lurid advances of her husband's layabout but romantic artist cousin. Good Mayor Krovic does his job, which consists mainly of being seen to be the good Mayor. He takes his morning coffee in the Italian café and leaves mints for the owner. He oversees his committees and writes his letters. Day after day. He goes home at night looking forward to the following morning when he can again catch an un-noticed glimpse of the beautiful Mrs Stopak – from beneath his office door, or from the heights of the clock tower.

Until one day the world turns upside down. This is a requirement of love stories. Even those set in forgotten parts of the Baltic. In this case the things which turn the world upside down are that: Agathe drops her lunch-box in the fountain, a lawyer (who cannot be called weasely on account of his immense girth) finds reason to remove the Good Mayor from his position on the Bench (which will almost certainly lose him mayoral powers to boot) and Mamma Cesare introduces our heroine to the mystical theatre that lurks beneath the café.

Things will never be the same again. To begin to tell what happens next is to spoil the delight of it all. It is beautiful and absurd in equal measure. Of course it couldn't, wouldn't ever happen. Some magical sequences challenge you to put a realistic interpretation upon them, whilst others proffer their own plausible alter egos but leave you wondering which is intended to be true.

Considerations of poetry and art and beauty are as irrelevant as the classical references that litter the conversations. What really matters is Love. What we will do to achieve it and to keep it. How reluctant we are to let it go. How we will use it to cloak our misbegotten adventures in a sheen of something approaching honour. And what fools, ultimately, it makes of us all.

What matters also is friendship, and the strange measures we take to express a bond across the divides of professional undertakings, which after all is just another kind of love.

The light touch throughout doesn't prevent the author from throwing in a moving & suspense-fuelled conclusion which rounds the whole into an entirely satisfying read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you haven't already read Joanne Harris' Chocolat it will definitely appeal to anyone tempted by Nicoll's style.

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